Saroj Khan's comment on casting couch is an ugly reminder of how insulated Bollywood can be

Gautam Chintamani

Apr,24 2018 18:39:51 IST

Veteran choreographer Saroj Khan’s recent statements, where she not only justified but also pretty much endorsed the existence of the casting couch in Bollywood as an accepted industry practice, confirms many horrible myths about the Hindi film industry.

The legendary choreographer was asked to comment on Telugu actor Sri Reddy’s protest against casting couch and it was here that Khan said that ‘this’ (casting couch) was hardly a new thing and everyone, including the government, wants to take advantage of girls.

But, more than anything else, it was her statement — 'Woh kam se kam roti toh deti hai. Rape karke chhod toh nahi deti' (the film industry provides livelihood, it does not discard the woman after ‘raping’ them) — that shows how easy it is for Bollywood to normalise just about anything.

At a time when the entertainment industry world over is witnessing movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, where actresses are finding the strength to openly share their experiences of sexual harassment, Saroj Khan’s statement is an ugly reminder of how insulated Bollywood is when it comes women’s rights.

There have been women in the Hindi film industry, too, who have spoken about battling the casting couch, and Ms. Khan’s words are a reflection of a state of mind that refuses to make amends. This is a place where people off-screen defend and validate everything from murder, poaching, rape, and battery, but shout from the rooftops that making a film preaching otherwise or donating a little money is good enough to wash away all sins.

Saroj Khan/Image from Twitter.

Saroj Khan/Image from Twitter.

In the 1980s, Saroj Khan was the X factor that transformed the lives of many starry-eyed aspirants. Born Nirmala Nagpal, she was just 13 when she embraced Islam and married Master Sohanlal, an already married dance master who was 41. Khan had her first child at 14 and separated from Sohanlal at 17 before going on to become one of the most recognised choreographers of all times.

Toon by Manjul.

Toon by Manjul.

It was Saroj Khan who is perhaps single-handedly responsible for creating the aura of Madhuri Dixit. If Khan did not give the then up-and-coming star evergreen songs like 'Ek Do Teen' (Tezaab), 'Tamma Tamma Loge' (Thanedaar), 'Humko Aaj Kal Hai Intezaar' (Sailaab), 'Dhak dhak' (Beta), and 'Choli Ke Peeche' (Khalnayak), maybe the legend of Madhuri Dixit might not have come around.

Saroj Khan was nothing less than a mentor to not only Madhuri Dixit, but also numerous leading ladies whose arrival was truly announced by the steps of a Saroj Khan number.

After hearing Saroj Khan’s statements, one can’t help but wonder if she ever made younger women under her feel that things such as casting couch were, in fact, the only way to go.

After all, if someone like her could take a chorus dancer Madhuri Dixit, who featured in a small dance sequence in Karma (1986) which got deleted in the final cut, and give her the song that defined the 1980s, then her word would probably be the gospel truth for newcomers.

Rather than showing support or solidarity, Saroj Khan’s distasteful statements have told thousands of young girls that the casting couch is the only route to dreams coming true. How stupid are we, the audiences, then to expect that a few great messages driven films are all that is needed to change Bollywood.

Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 20:19 PM